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With the holiday season fast approaching, many people have their vacation plans mapped out for the rest of the year. But even the most rested souls might need a getaway before the end of November.
If you need a break before the winter holidays but are restricted by limited time off or a lack of funds, look to a "micro trip."
What is a micro trip, anyway?
A micro trip (or micro vacation) refers to a trip that lasts up to three days. These short getaways can be a balm to the stressed soul, letting you escape for a bit without the additional concern of returning home from a longer trip only to need a vacation from your vacation.
A micro trip requires asking the same questions you would of any vacation:
Where are you going?
How are you getting there?
Where are you staying?
Once you have those three questions answered, the other details will fall quickly into place.
Location, location, location
When you think of a vacation, you might picture exotic, faraway locales — but don’t discount cities within driving range, which are especially great candidates for a micro trip. This past year, I’ve taken micro trips from Omaha, Nebraska, to the nearby cities of Des Moines, Iowa, and Kansas City, Missouri — both of which I’ve visited many times over the years. But this year I decided to be surprised and delighted by things I hadn’t experienced before.
Look for unique local festivals or interesting opportunities that can make a familiar location feel new. For me, handcrafted cocktails in a dimly lit speakeasy added a sophisticated highlight to my Kansas City micro trip — which otherwise featured long afternoons wandering through the fantastic Nelson-Atkins museum. And crab rangoon pizza and tiki drinks in an Alton Brown-approved joint fueled my inner foodie in Des Moines.
Don't necessarily discount faraway locations for a micro trip. If you have time to plan ahead, there are plenty of ways to get a great deal even if you're traveling a long way from home. Although last-minute flight deals might be harder to snag, they aren’t impossible.
If you know exactly where you want to go, sign up for Google Flights alerts to keep an eye out for deals. If you aren’t sure where to head, a tool like Brisk Voyage will set you up for impromptu weekend trips. Just sign up with your closest airport and receive Friday to Sunday weekend trip options to popular destinations delivered to your inbox weekly.
Optimize how you’ll get there
Choosing a nearby getaway for your micro trip can help you save on flight costs, but it can also give more flexibility to the rest of your itinerary.
For example, I occasionally make a 500-mile micro trip to football games at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. Since hotel rooms on football weekends can cost hundreds of dollars per night, I choose to drive instead of fly so I can stop in a smaller city over halfway between Omaha and the university, where I pay a fraction of the cost for a hotel room. Then I strategically use hotel rewards points to minimize the financial impact of the nights I absolutely have to be near campus.
Use your rewards for an overnight stay ...
According to NerdWallet research, nearly half of Americans overestimate the value of their loyalty points. Whether or not that describes you, one thing's for sure: Loyalty points can easily lose value if you hold onto them for too long. So if you have them, this is a good time to use them.
Even if you don’t have enough points to redeem for a hotel night, it could be worth joining the rewards program at any location where you might stay. Some hotel chains offer perks simply for being a member, such as free in-room Wi-Fi.
... and optimize how you earn them
If you have a credit card that earns travel rewards, make sure you know its bonus spending categories and are maximizing them appropriately. For example, some cards offer double points at gas stations, hotels or restaurants. It's even possible to earn triple points or more on some travel spending categories with certain cards.
To further maximize your savings on a road trip, download an app like GasBuddy, which can give you approximate gas prices along your route so you can plan when to fill up.
If you like the idea of rest and relaxation but the planning required to take a micro trip feels too stressful, consider our tips for a great staycation instead.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you How to sidestep the potential pitfalls of travel credit cards Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies